Monday, March 25, 2013

Are you my mother? Techno-propaganda in children’s literature

Voted as one of the most popular picture books of all time, P.D. Eastman’s 1960 classic, Are You My Mother, has an insidious—and blatantly obvious—message for young readers about the intrinsic beneficence of industrial technology. My parents were big Dr. Seuss fans, but not so much with Eastman, so I somehow missed reading this until my daughter inherited her own mother’s well-worn copy. I assume that it is now part of my granddaughter’s library.

Here's a nice youtube version. Propaganda always seems more easily digestible with an accent.

Briefly, it’s a story about a young bird that falls out of the nest and goes in search of its mother.  It runs into a variety of creatures, a cat, a hen, a dog, and a cow, among others, and asks them the question that is the title of the book. Things are looking pretty bleak for the little bird when it runs into "the snort," a giant, red, noisy, smoke-billowing mechanical creature (a steam shovel). The bird hops onto the toothy bucket of the machine and nervously asks it the question of the day. The machine responds by snorting loudly and carrying the by-now completely terrified bird up into the air and then drops it gently back into its nest, where the bird’s actual mother returns momentarily with a juicy worm for breakfast.

There are two related take-home messages here:  first, machines may look scary, but they really have our best interests at heart; second, mechanical technology (more specifically, technology that we don't personally comprehend) is how our problems get solved. 

The next generation of genetic modification or nanotech or weapons systems or crowd control technology may look scary, but it really has our best interests at heart.  

We are lost. We have lost track of our true home, and with it, contact with our authentic human nature. But there is a technological cure, an innovation just around the corner that is sure to make everything better. The next corporate digital distraction is sure to pick us up and sweep us right back to where we belong.    

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